There is a lot of talk in the media about empowering our daughters and making sure that they know it is OK to play with trucks and like Math and be strong and not like pink, frilly princess dresses. There has long been a desire to break down the typical stereotypes that have been built up over the years and perpetuated by the media and to take feminism to the next level. I feel like I have read a lot of blogs and health articles about raising strong, independent girls and making sure that we send the proper messages about food and nutrition and education and loving ourselves and looking past the superficial and encouraging each girl to find the thing inside her that makes her unique; whether it is a natural wit, or adventurousness, or intellect, or athletic ability or whatever. This is super important. I want this for my nieces. I want them to know and embrace all their special gifts and never have a dysfunctional relationship with food because they want to be “skinny” or for them to think that math and science are for boys or that they should be quiet and sweet and not speak their minds because that is what “nice” girls do or to have their self-worth wrapped up in what they look like and what they wear and which girls like them and whether boys want to be with them. I want all the girls of the world to feel strong to choose their path and love themselves for who they are and not what they look like. But what about our boys?
These same stereotypes are equally detrimental to our sons. Boys are not immune to poor body image. Boys feel the pressure to perform well in certain school subjects and are maybe “let off the hook” a little too easily when it comes to others. And sports, my goodness, the sports! Can a boy even admit that he doesn’t like sports? Boys talk about other boys and compare themselves and each other, just like girls do. And when boys don’t fit the stereotypical portrait of a boy they are often belittled and marginalized. But no one really talks about that or at least I don’t find it very prevalent in the media. It is all about Girl Power (which again, I totally get), but I think we need to be teaching these same lessons to boys and be aware of the same messages the we adults are sending to our sons.
At the book fair today, I was looking for a particular book for C and I couldn’t find it. I had, of course, left the list at home and was going from memory. I knew it was Dog Diary or something but the only thing I could find was Dork Diaries (and, really?) so I thought maybe I had gotten wrong and I decided I would have to come back. So when I picked him up from his Aunt’s, I asked what the name of the dog diary was and he says, “No! It’s a diary. With a dog on it. It’s pink and has a lock.” Ah. Of course! What every boy dreams of, right? And then he said, “I know some people will think it is funny and weird because it is probably for a girl because it is pink and sparkly, but I like it”. And that is all that matters, kid. You see, for C this was like the perfect prize- it is pink (his favorite color!) and it has a cute white dog on the front (his favorite thing!) and he can lock it (and keep it special and hidden and away from his twin and mom!) And even though my own over-programmed first response to this revelation was an inward eye-roll, would I ever tell my son he couldn’t have it? What would be the reason? Because it is pink? Or because diaries are supposedly for girls? Or some other bit of society-dictated dogma about what is for boys and what is for girls? No. But I bet some parents might say no without even thinking. And I KNOW that I have put the kibosh on things like it in the past without even thinking, so no judgement. I guess my point really is that we need to start thinking. We need to think about what we are teaching both our sons and daughters about gender roles and self-worth. I want my sons to feel equally empowered whether they are reading a book or playing basketball or dancing or fishing or writing in a pink diary or rocking out on a guitar. I want them to feel comfortable in their own skin and to not allow their happiness be dictated by outside influences. And I think that we all have a responsibility as parents to stop putting labels on activities and colors and school subjects as “boy” or “girl” and start trying to influence the messages in the media to not only encourage “Girl Power” but to encourage “Human Power” and encourage all kids to find those unique qualities inside them that make them who they are and to embrace it and love it and cultivate it. Because the more children who are able to find that acceptance of themselves at a young age, the happier our world will be.
The boys with their cousin at age 3 🙂